Project-Based Learning: "Be an Activist," Part 2

Project-Based Learning: “Be an Activist,” Part 2

So much of this project depends on their interest level, after all. In theory, the greater their interest, the greater the depth, the greater the end product.
This is part 2 of an ongoing series on a grade 6 project-based unit. I will be following my students on their journey as learners, as they chart their own interests and concerns about planet Earth and become activists in their own right.

For more information about the project, check out my earlier post: PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: “BE AN ACTIVIST,” PART 1.


Project Topics

The focus of the last week has been on topic selection and research. Near the hind-end of my previous post, students had begun jotting down every problem that came to mind. They tapped their unit books, books we use predominantly as a resource. They watched countless videos.

Each scrawled potential topics into their binder (see the document below), and they took some time to do preliminary research. At this point, they simply had to articulate the problem. As I circulated around the classroom, I was looking for their own connections to the topics. Perhaps most important of all, I wanted to know why the topic appealed to them. So much of this project depends on their interest level, after all. In theory, the greater their interest, the greater the depth, the greater the end product.

Worksheet for brainstorming & exploring potential topics

As the week wore on, theybegan eliminating topics from their list, slowly weeding out their top 3.  Finally, with some direction already in the forefront of their minds, they were instructed to choose a final team of 1 to 3 students. They then selected their final problem using a tournament bracket, pitting brilliant idea against brilliant idea.

Some of the (killer) topics selected include:

  • Response & preparation to earthquakes
  • The Larsen Ice Shelf and the potential impact it has
  • Nuclear energy & waste
  • Treatment of animals in captivity
  • Deforestation

Research Phase

With topics in mind, students have begun to dive into research. As a more in-depth phase of research, I started students off with a CommonSenseMedia’s Digital Citizenship lesson on Strategic Searching. The goal was to best equip students to find the sites they want, to use search engines like KidRex.org or SweetSearch.com and hit the results they’re actually looking for while excluding erroneous, dated, or difficult results. Check out some of what we did in the pictures below.

  • Based on CommonSenseMedia's Strategic Searching lesson

From here, students drafted a series of questions to frame their project. I decided to scaffold the question formation based on an article by Warren Berger. In his article, he argues that asking Why-What if-How questions is the key to innovation and problem solving. These questions would then be used to guide their searches, to pull keywords from, and shape their search queries. Through these questions, students consider the nature of the problem, imagine an alternative, and explore a means to get there.

Why – What if – How: Questions to frame problem by

We left off at the end of the week with the early results of research. We’ll be moving forward to qualify this information some next week.

Reflection

Again, I find myself impressed with the work ethic my students have offered. In keeping with the motivation for this project, increasing student agency and choice with hopes of improving motivation, my class seemed laser-focused.

I expected some interpersonal turbulence about groups and topics. It seemed likely to me that students might argue about their groups or final topics. Instead, students drifted into groups based on their pre-established interests, not based on where their best friends had set up shop.

This was one of the first occasions where I saw students researching for the sake of knowledge. The reward was learning. Completion seemed secondary.
Furthermore, previous attempts at student-driven research, phones or tablets in hand, have always been shaky. While students are often on task, research is a task done for sake of completion. They rush to gather as much information as possible before moving onto the next task. This was one of the first occasions where I saw groups researching for the sake of knowledge. The reward was learning. Completion seemed secondary.

Students struggled some at coming up with where to take their research next. A few groups chimed in with an “I’m done, Mr. Hesler,” a little sooner than I would have liked. However, it took little more than a gentle nudge to get them onto their next question. I found greater success in asking students what interested them in their initial research as opposed to simply suggesting what to look for next. Majority of the time, students came up with an interesting follow-up question to explore with little direction. There was only one occasion where I had to feed a follow-up research question. And, only because his topic was too narrow.

Resources I Used

Feel free to steal the documents if you wish: